Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Blaming teachers, again

An article on school reform in today repeats some oft-heard criticism of teachers, their unions, and other professional educators for the failure of public schools.
"A major contributor to public education’s problems is the hiring of teacher college graduates. Those who enter America’s teacher colleges are exposed to a curriculum that is light in academic substance, one that is held in contempt by professors and students of serious study." 
I tend to doubt that this is really the problem. On the other hand, I would like to know more about the potential connection between teacher education and student performance in public schools. I have personally taught students in college classes who were among my lowest performers and, lo and behold, planned to become public school teachers. On the other hand, one of my best students approached me last summer for a letter of reference as he was beginning his student teaching experience as a New York City public school social studies teacher. So it clearly goes both ways.

A part of the article that I found more compelling connects, in a way, with my interest in learning objectives and critical thinking:
"The public school system’s obsession with the rejection of memorization makes the retention of knowledge impossible. No one has ever been able to replace memorization and retention of information as the basic method of learning. Despite the education establishment’s rejection of traditional education, no one has been able to replace the mental need to make connections based on acquired information."
A basic tenet of cognitive psychology is that learning begins with knowledge of facts and then proceeds to higher-order types of cognition such as understanding concepts, implementing procedures, and engaging in analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. What concerns me about the attitude expressed above, however, is that it seems to suggest a call for memorization of facts as the basis of public education, with little awareness of the rest of Bloom's taxonomy or the need to include other types of cognition and learning in the educational mix--too much emphasis on the "acquired information" part and not enough on the "make connections" part.

1 comment:

  1. The author who insists on the failure of the public schools to focus on memorization might look at Schema Theory-- ie, you only remember that which makes sense and fits into larger bodies of knowledge. I can remember that the Civil War took place between 1861 and 1865 because it fits into a larger understanding of American History. I'm not sure that memorization and application are always as separate as that quote suggests.